I'm at the dregs of my TBR pile. The long pregnancy wait, nonexistent library time, and a mother who'd much rather send cute baby clothes than books right now have dried up my incoming sources and sent me scourging my shelves. But, I'd still rather read (now that I have one free hand) than fry my brain with more HGTV, so I've found myself breaking into a stash I had of books written by my favorite authors, but from when they wrote category or before they broke out into the big time.
I found them at garage sales and library sales for a song (and a quarter or two). But, I tend not to read anything more than 10 years out of date if I can help it. But, I decided to put my bias aside and give some of these a shot. And what do you know, the 80's details didn't set me off.
Instead, poor writing has me tossing books aside right and left. If you're a longtime blog reader, you know that I can't STAND to not finish books. Even bad books. But, apparently all this RWA learnin' has paid off in an unexpected way: my standards have raised.
I can't stand backstory. Head hopping makes my stomach hurt. Dragging narrative makes me sleepy. Falling in love too soon makes me yawn. Nonexistent conflict makes 3 a.m. feedings physically painful and sends me wandering the halls with a baby attached for new reading materials.
But, back to my original point. These were written by NYT best-sellers. These aren't some random category or dated books. These are by the best of the best.
Only . . .
They weren't the best yet. They were still developing their voice, learning POV, honing their plot skills, suffering from poor editing, and limited by narrative gaffes. In short, they were making newbie mistakes.
It's easy to be intimidated when we pick up the latest best seller. "My work will never be this good," the green-eyed devil whispers. "They have some gift I lack." "They have the secret." But, they don't. What they have is a lot of hard work, and a pile of manuscripts that led them the to the one that catapulted them to the big time. And after that magical point, they had a backlist worthy of devouring. But, except in rare cases, it wasn't their first book. It wasn't the third. It was years into their journey.
What can we take away from this other than the usual lesson of perseverance?
Finishing a MS isn't enough. Publishing isn't enough. In fact, publishing your way to better writing might not be an option anymore unless we're talking about very small presses. There is a reason why the RWA first sale column bursts with writers selling their fifth manuscript. Their tenth. Their twentieth.
You don't get good right out of the gate. You don't get good when you let early success go to your head. So you won that contest, landed that first sale, got a good critique. It's not enough. You have to keep pushing, keep growing, and most importantly keep writing. You have to finish. One MS isn't enough. But your magic number is out there waiting.
Are you ready to go find it?
Best of luck to those of you finishing NaNoWriMo, Eli's challenge, and other challenges out there. Each MS you finish is one closer to the promised land.